Figuring out what server configurations will look like in 12 months has never been simple and 2004 will be no exception. Many issues influence product choice but Intel plans to diversify its product line considerably, intensifying the problem. Intel's server processor products fall into two families, the 32-bit Xeon and 64-bit Itanium 2. According to Alan Priestley, Intel's enterprise marketing manager for Europe, the Xeon product line will remain for the foreseeable future as a result of the enormous volume of 32-bit software currently. The plan is to produce a low-voltage version for use in physically cramped locations, such as blades and 1U servers. In addition, the dual-processor (DP) Xeon's L3 cache grows to 4MB this quarter, while DP support for PCI Express is expected later this year. The PCI Express specification, first announced some 18 months ago, describes 'a packetised protocol and a layered architecture that enables attachment to copper, optical, or emerging physical signalling media', according to the PCI SIG, with an initial bit rate of 2.5Gb/sec full duplex, over twice as fast as the standard 32-bit PCI bus. Priestley said he expected the new bus to replace PCI eventually and to be included in product this year.

Chip of the future
Naturally, Intel sees Itanium 2 as its server chip for the future, however, and the company claims an increasingly lengthy list of prestige purchasers, quoting figures that show purported cost of ownership savings. Users are said to include Prof Stephen Hawking, whose Cosmos project models the history of the universe from the Big Bang until today, about 14 billion years later. So Itanium 2 is where Intel is putting its development effort. The fastest is multi-processor (MP) capable and currently runs at 1.5GHz with a 6MB L3 cache, climbing to 9MB this year and with a faster clock. In 2005 according to Priestley, Itanium 2's next generation (aka Montecito) becomes a dual-core chip using 90nm geometry. Following that is the code-named Tukwila, which will be a multi-core device using technology borrowed from the now-defunct Compaq Alpha project. This could have implications for cost, since it means Intel will get fewer chips per wafer, which in turn leads to higher prices. The company will also need to amortise the additional cost of moving to the new 90nm technology. Various other new flavours of Itanium 2 include an update before the end of the year of the low-voltage 1GHz DP Itanium 2 designed for 'high density solutions'. The DP Itanium 2 (aka Madison) will also experience a clock speed hike. What's clear is that the process of choosing the right server CPU will become even more complex as Intel continues to develop new versions to cater to demands for more power, more multi-threading and greater integration. Watch this space for our update from Intel's upcoming developer forum in a couple of weeks.